Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/15/iphone_rumors/

iPhone 5 rumors: bigger, smaller, cloudy, keyboard-equipped

Will Apple ape Google?

By Rik Myslewski

Posted in Phones, 15th February 2011 22:57 GMT

The latest round of iPhone rumors point in multiple directions at once: a larger screen, a smaller phone, a slide-out keyboard, and cloud-only operation à la Google's still-gestating Chrome OS.

Let's start with that larger screen. According to a DigiTimes report on Tuesday, "upstream component suppliers" say Apple's next iPhone will have a 4-inch screen, a smidgen bigger than the 3.5-inch display of today's iPhone 4.

Big whoop, say we.

If DigiTimes's sources are correct, upping the iPhone's display size will simply put it in line with many of the more-popular smartphones available today, as well as other recently announced but not-yet-shipping handsets such as the Acer Iconia Smart and Motorola Atrix:

To be sure, no current smartphone matches the iPhone 4's 326-ppi pixel density. But if Apple plans to maintain the same 960-by-640 pixel resolution in a 4-inch display to keep app-display consistent, the pixel-per-inch count would drop to 288 ppi. After all the hoopla that Apple created around the release of its handset's "retina display", we'd be interested to see how Cupertino's marketeers will spin that spec slippage.

Also on the rumor menu is a spate of recent reports that resurrect the oft-discussed "iPhone nano", a staple of speculation since at least mid-2008.

As before, the pygmy phone is being predicted by the usual "people familiar with the matter" speaking with mainstream media mouthpieces such as Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal.

The purported iPhone nano is said to be on the order of one-half (WSJ) to two-thirds (Bloomberg) the size of the iPhone 4. Odds are that the device – if it even exists, of course – would take advantage of the dual-mode capability that iFixit.com turned up in its recent vivisection of the Verizon iPhone 4.

To our mind, this rumor makes a modicum of sense. After all, there are nearly seven billion souls inhabiting Planet Earth, and not all of them need – or want – a full-featured, full-sized, pricey smartphone. And as we've said many times before, Apple has never met a revenue stream it didn't like.

Take the iPod, for example. When it was released in October 2001, it came in exactly one configuration: big and expensive. In January 2004, however, it was joined by the iPod mini. The iPhone was announced in January 2007 and shipped in June of that year. Following the iPod timeline, it's just about time for Apple to drop a less-expensive, less-capable iPhone into the mass market.

Another of the week's iPhone rumors makes less sense to us here at Vulture Annex. As pointed out by AppleInsider, the Chinese-language website tw.apple.pro claims that there are three new iPhone prototypes in the works, one with a slide-out keyboard.

As quoted by the ever-amusing Google Translate (and tweaked by The Reg), a tw.apple.pro poster by the name of Anthony writes: "As for the so-called iPhone5, according to 'clip die' tomb said to me, there are three iPhone5 prototype: one is sliding cover [and] the introduction of the keyboard after the side cover."

Sparse evidence, to be sure – but sparser chance, in our opinion.

Admittedly, the iPhone took a boatload of flack for its lack of a physical keyboard when it was first introduced – including a memorably buffoonish turn by a laughing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: "It doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard," he chortled, "which makes it not a very good email machine."

But billions of iPhone email messages later, Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 7 – which supports an on-screen keyboard.

Soft keyboards are here to stay – we don't see Apple backtracking on their on-screen keyboard for the iPhone, no matter what "clip die" tomb says.

Cloudy, 'mind-blowing' iPhone nano

The most intriguing iPhone rumor, however, comes from Cult of Mac – one which long-time Apple-watcher Leander Kahney says "will blow your mind."

The rumored iPhone nano, he says, "will have no memory for onboard storage of media... It will have only enough memory to buffer media streamed from the cloud." In case you missed the mind-blowing part of that statement, Kahney quoted his source as saying: "It would be a mostly cloud-based iOS." Presumably, there's some memory for local software.

The removal of extra storage would certainly make the iPhone nano less expensive to build, but as Kahney rightly points out, it could be problematic. Where would photos and videos be stored or buffered as they're taken by the iPhone's camera and before they can complete their upload to the cloud, for example, as opposed to media being buffered when brought down from the cloud?

Well, one answer to that problem would be that the iPhone nano could be cameraless – not a great selling point in a world where cameraphones are the go-to image-capturing devices for an entire new generation of users.

Then there's the matter of apps. It's certainly possible that an iPhone nano's Apple-supplied apps – Phone, Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and the like – could be cloud-based, but would third-party apps also reside in the cloud, along with all their data and files? Wouldn't such a usage model put a crushing load on telecom services?

And what about games, one of Apple's most loudly touted iOS usage models? We can't imagine 3G latencies being tolerable even for Angry Birds, let alone Fieldrunners or Real Racing.

If Kahney's source is correct, the problems that a lack of storage in an iPhone nano would cause could of course be obviated by a microSD slot, shifting the cost of storage from Apple to the device's owner. But Apple has historically shown no interest in allowing memory-card upgrades to any of its iDevices, and by doing so it would loosen the tight control it demands over app installation – and, for that matter, lose the possible revenue stream of cloudy service.

But as wary as we may be of this final rumor, we're not counting it out entirely. Whether terrestrial data-lovers like it or not, the cloud is the future – a future in which users trade control for what will be sold to them as security and relatively unlimited storage capacity.

After all, cloudy apps are the basis of Google's Chrome OS strategy – a strategy that may be limping a bit these days, but is still moving forward. A cloudy iPhone might work much the same way – but whether it'll have a 4-inch display, be one-half or two-thirds the size of an iPhone 4, or have a slide-out keyboard remains unknown.

And you know Apple: they don't comment on unreleased produts, or on rumors and speculation. ®